(Photo by BYU Photo)
COLUMBIA, Mo. – After defeating Louisville 6-4 behind five RBI from Libby Sugg to extend the team's season, BYU softball lost 2-0 to Nebraska in the NCAA Columbia Regional.
“I'm proud of the way our tean fought today after a difficult night last night," BYU head coach Gordon Eakin said. "I thought they came out and showed great character today. They played hard."
BYU finishes the 2016 campaign with a 36-21 record after making it to the NCAA regionals for the 12th-straight time.
McKenna Bull and Olivia Sanchez split the pitching duty today, throwing five and three strikeouts, respectively. Sugg led the effort from the plate, hitting five RBI on two hits in the first game, three of the RBI coming from her 18th home run.
Sugg’s career-high five RBI kept BYU’s postseason alive with a 6-4 win over Louisville in the Columbia Regional.
Gordy Bravo hit a single up the middle in the second pitch of the game to get things going for the Cougars. A sacrifice bunt from Lauren Bell advanced Bravo to second, and two walks loaded up the bases. Alexa Strid then hit a sacrifice fly to right field, allowing Bravo enough time to sprint home for the early 1-0 lead.
The Cardinals struck back in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer over the left field fence to go up 2-1 after one inning.
The top of the third saw Bell reaching on a single to right field. Ashley Thompson followed that up with a bunt spinning just in front of home plate to stay fair for another single. To take back the lead, Sugg hit a home run over left field to bring in three runs. BYU took the 4-2 advantage and forced a pitching change with no outs. The Cardinals’ pitcher, Maryssa Becker, struck out three to end the inning, leaving two stranded.
The Cougars went three up, three down in the top of the fifth. With two runners on for the Cardinals, Coco Tauali’i Bond made a tough defensive stop on a hit and gunned out the runner at first for the third out to end the fifth inning, holding Louisville to four-straight scoreless innings.
Coming off of her great play on defense, Bond led off the sixth inning with a single popped right over third base to find the gap. Two-straight singles from Bravo and Bell loaded up the bases, then Thompson hit a fielder’s choice when the Cardinals’ defense threw out Bond at home plate, keeping the bases full. Sugg hit a single to the hole in left center to get Bravo and Bell home, extending the lead to 6-2.
Louisville responded in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run homer over left field to close in on the lead, 6-4, with two outs. Bull stopped the rally with her fourth strikeout of the game.
Despite a single from Caitlyn Larsen to start the seventh inning, BYU was unable to pad its lead, leaving Larsen stranded. However, the defense held strong to seal the 6-4 win, advancing to face Nebraska in another elimination game.
BOX SCORE: BYU vs. Louisville
The Cougars got off to a rough start against the Huskers. The defense gave up two runs on four hits before getting the third out, going down 2-0 early on. Then the offense struggled, going three up, three down in the bottom of the first.
Sugg and Alexa Strid led off the bottom of the second with back-to-back singles. Emilee Erickson advanced the runners on a sacrifice bunt, just barely getting thrown out. However, Sugg and Strid were left stranded on third and second following two consecutive outs, keeping BYU scoreless.
In the top of the third, the Cougars retired the Cornhuskers in order behind two strikeouts from Sanchez. McKenzie St. Clair made it to third base in the bottom of the third after stealing second and sprinting to third after an overthrow. Bell put down a squeeze bunt to get St. Clair home, but the tag was made at home, preventing the run.
After hitless and scoreless innings in the third and fourth for both teams, Nebraska threatened to score in the top of the fifth. BYU held though with Sugg catching the third out popped up at home plate. The Cougars were then taken down in order, however, after all three batters were flown out to the outfield.
BYU got three quick outs in the top of the seventh to get up to bat for the final rally. Sanchez shutout Nebraska for six straight innings. Despite their efforts, the Cougars fell short, falling 2-0 to the Huskers.
BOX SCORE: BYU vs. Nebraska
Head Coach Gordon Eakin
“I’m proud of the way our team fought today against Louisville and then against Nebraska. After a difficult night last night, I thought they came back and showed great character and played really well today. [They] played a solid game in the first one, and thought we had a little momentum in the second game that turned out to not be momentum, but they still played hard and we worked through it and had a chance to win.”
On what Nebraska pitcher Cassie McClure was doing to make things tough…
“Just mixing her speeds really well. She threw a great game moving the ball in and out and her change was really effective against us today.”
On making an early pitching change…
“That was our plan all along once we had McKenna [Bull] going in the first game, we thought our best chance if we were going to get any innings out of her in the second game was to keep her going, but she obviously didn’t have it. In the first inning, we made a quick change to Olivia [Sanchez], and Olivia did a great job.”
On Sanchez’s outstanding relief effort…
“Yeah, for the whole game. Not only in the first inning but through the entire game, she just did a fantastic job. [I’m] proud of her and that’s big-time in this setting for a freshman to come in and do what she did.”
On being on the wrong end of a couple close calls…
“Yeah, and obviously I can’t speak to that in the NCAA, but when I checked on my way over here, I had 27 texts with videos showing me the plays, so we’ll just leave it at that. And it killed our momentum.”
On playing through tough calls…
“You learn to work through that over time. Those things happen in softball. If you’re going to play big-time softball, you have to learn to work through that. We definitely didn’t get the breaks in the time we needed it to capture the momentum. To be umpirely correct, I’ll leave it at that.”
On whether he was aware of the injury situation with Nebraska 3B MJ Knighten…
“We knew she didn’t play the first game and we saw what happened yesterday and that she was maybe not 100 percent as far as movement. We tried to take advantage of that early in the game. It’s surprising how fast she can move when she needs to, even with the injury. She did a really good job. We tried to exploit that a little bit in the game, and when she needed to rise up, she did.”
On having an impressive young roster heading into next season…
“Yeah, we only had two seniors this year. And so, we’re young and yet, we have experience in the tournament with a lot of our starters. The young kids, this is their first experience, but they did a great job and we have a tremendous class coming in, so we’re excited about our future. To take this nucleus and add the players coming in and continue to grow the program and not fall just short.”
RHP Olivia Sanchez
On being mentally prepared to enter the game early…
“I didn’t really know what the plan was, but I just knew that I should be ready, and he told me at the beginning of the game to just make sure I was ready because I could go in at any time. So, I didn’t know when that was going to be, but I knew going in that I had my defense behind me and they were able to make all the plays.”
C Libby Sugg
On Cassie McClure’s shutout pitching performance…
“Yeah, she did an awesome job. I can’t take anything away from her. She mixes speed, she was in and out, up and down. I have so much respect for her. She did an awesome job. She definitely kept me off-balance, and yeah, she was great.”
On the high of the afternoon and the disappointment of the evening…
“I think the high was definitely the win against Louisville. That was awesome. We all came together and we strung hits and we did the little things, and I believe that’s how we won that game. Unfortunately, we fell short to Nebraska. Not that we played a bad game, it just didn’t click, I guess.”